Question: There’s all this talk about solar, wind and water power—but what exactly is “renewable” energy? Is it actually renewable?

Answer: Believe it or not, renewable energy is, actually, renewable. The term “renewable energy” refers to the energy we’re able to get from natural sources that either won’t run out or is capable of being replenished within a human lifespan.

This is in contrast to energy sources like fossil fuels which, once they’re used, cannot be replaced.

Currently, we are able to obtain renewable energy from a number of sources, including:

  • the sun
  • wind
  • moving water
  • biomass materials
  • geothermal sources

Renewable energy sources can produce energy in the form of electricity, industrial heat, thermal energy for space and water conditioning, and transportation fuels.

Although it’s tempting to think of renewable energy as “alternative” or not-yet developed as a mainstream power source, think again. Fifty-nine percent of Canada’s electricity is supplied by power generated by moving water. In fact, Canada is the world’s second-largest producer of hydroelectricity. Researchers are also working to develop ways to efficiently harness the power of tidal currents.

The second-most plentiful source of renewable energy in Canada is biomass, or energy produced from biological material that has stored sunlight in the form of chemical energy. Wood (including industrial wood waste), decomposing organic waste, and crops like corn are all considered biomass materials. (Although petroleum products are produced from organic matter, the long amount of time it takes them to replenish means they aren’t considered renewable energy sources.) Biomass produces five percent of Canada’s overall energy.

In total, about 16 percent of Canada’s overall energy use is supplied by renewable sources.

So why is renewable energy important? Because, generally, getting energy from a diverse array of sources is, in the long term, better for the environment, economy and supplies of future resources. More specifically, energy from renewable sources tends to produce fewer greenhouse gases than conventional sources, and allows countries to rely more on local energy sources rather than those imported from other places.

Do you have thoughts about using renewable energy? Share them in the comments section.

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